Emergency *ooof*: Sassy, Armitage?
[I should really get into the habit of posting this little warning at the start of each post: Mild RPF follows at the end of the analysis!]
Loud screams in the sacred silence of the early morning Guylty household today. The exact words cannot be repeated here, suffice to say there was a colourful variety of profanities to be heard in these otherwise clean environments, interspersed with giggles worthy of a madwoman. The reason? The emergence of a new photoshoot. I should have known, of course. Not only is the PRA (public relations Armitage) in the good habit of striking when the chicken coop is already all a-flutter, but we had actually discussed up-coming interviews on MorrighansMuse’s blog yesterday.
Duh. I blame my lack of comprehension on the distracting glimpse of chest hair in one of the pics. Nonetheless, it took a couple of hours and a trip over to Getty Images to cop on that these were the images that had been mentioned in context with the New York Moves interview, and they have been taken by photographer Leslie Hassler.
An immediate urge to *ooof* took firm hold in my
subconsciousness, and I was spurred on by a number of evil commentators, intent on dispensing with my sanity. Because, oh, I knew this was going to be deadly. Making the choice of which image to *ooof* was the first hurdle – but the trusty Army sent me help via a message from AwkwardCelebrityEncounters, demanding “sassy Armitage”. I oblige, but only because my reason has already vanished and I am mere putty in my fellow sisters-in-RA’s hands. Choosing an image is always hard for me. I just love ’em all – the man… eh… craft in them excites me because I know how hard it is to produce acceptable good images. My initial reaction to the location (outdoors) shots was stronger than that to the portraits in front of the neutral backdrop, and those will have to be *ooof*ed at a later stage. But here goes…
The confusion continues. Not because Armitage has that sort of effect on those with a preference for tall, dark, stubbled, be-nape-curled men with open collars and cheeky twinkles in their eyes but because the portrait again blurs the line between fashion photography and (non-advertising) portraiture. Armitage is seen in a head and shoulders shot. He has angled his body at a 30 degrees angle, with his face turned towards the camera to half-profile. He appears to be formally dressed – white shirt, tie, waist coat – but has
sleezily informally opened tie and collar. Pity he hasn’t turned around a bit more – we do not get the benefit of the chest hair *coughs*. With a neutral, grey background behind him, the viewers’ gaze is directed to the face of the sitter – nothing to distract the attention. The lighting is soft and from left above, leaving almost no shadow on the subject’s face, there is only the tiniest trace of the characteristic butterfly-shaped shadow under the nose to indicate that beauty lighting has been used in this shot. Thus we get to see the details – the pronounced stubble, the thick, wavy hair, the soft folds of the neck where it is turned towards the camera, the thin lips, firmly closed, the occasional grey hairs in the sideburn, the characteristic angle on the side of his brow, the long, straight nose, the catch light in his eyes and the pronounced laughter lines. Oh, were there clothes in this shot? I didn’t notice…
The power of this portrait lies in the eyes. They are clearly the focus of the image – hence my confusion re. fashion photography. If the clothes were in the centre of the shot, then why do we see so little of them? The facial expression adds to the confusion. The look in the sitter’s eyes is decidedly cheeky. With his head slightly cocked to his left and towards the camera, the sitter seems to be leaning in – in an almost familiar way. There is an air of intimacy in this shot. The sitter could be about to whisper to us what he is thinking, conspiratorily allowing us a glimpse of his mind. Boredom with what he doing right then, right there? Reluctantly following a direction given by the photographer? Impatience? I don’t think there is irony in this look. Armitage is doing his split face-thing again: The right eye is slightly narrowed, the gaze is intense, giving the impression of an appraising look. Simultaneously (and from our angle), the right corner of his mouth seems slightly down-turned. On the left side of his face, however, the mouth seems to curl into the vaguest of smiles. The left eye has not quite decided whether it is gazing intensely or smiling – the laughter lines indicate the latter, but if you look at the eye in isolation it does not appear particularly smily. How does he do that? The more I study that expression, the less I can identify what emotion it conveys. Is this really sass? Or something altogether different. Is Armitage so easy to look at because his face is a foil for what we *want* to see on it?
I am beginning to come to the conclusion that Armitage has perfected the “open interpretation gaze”. We can interpret anything we want into this: a titillating “come on” with the head tilted forward only to fly back with a Gisborne flick any second now. A beckoning smoulder, drawing us into his tentacled charm? A silent and yet telling expression of mystery – “Look at me as much as you like – you will never know what I think.”
Nah, I prefer the first interpretation. This is where this image meets Servetus’ assertion (?) from her post a couple of days ago that we, the fans, imbue Armitage with the qualities we *want* him to have – for our own gratification, identification, admiration and self-exploration. – Is this a portrait shot then, which is defined as a photograph that depicts “a facet of the sitter’s personality”? The answer remains a mystery, like the man, as we cannot possibly know whether the seemingly sassy attitude is part of his personality – or merely grafted upon him by the viewer or the photographer. Maybe Hassler could give us an insight there, as she had to familiarise herself with him in order to bring out a facet of his personality. Was the shot a result of her directions (“And now try for a sassy look, Richard!”) or a split-second glimpse into RLRA? And if the latter, how did she get to prise the clam open? It’s all about establishing rapport. Maybe it went a bit like this:
When I opened the door, I looked straight at a broad chest. I had expected him, of course. This shoot had been organized months ago and I had done my homework. Richard Armitage. 42 years of age. Actor. Best known for his portrayal of the stern but passionate Mr Thornton in North & South, or for his love-struck and villainous Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood. The fallen hero Lucas North. The unbeatable John Porter. And lately of Hobbit-fame. 6’2″. I had not realized how tall that was, hence my eyes settled on a wide, well-formed chest, clad in a black casual shirt before glancing up into light blue eyes that were now focussed on me with a friendly twinkle.
“Mr Armitage. Hello! Come in ! How are you?”
I was babbling, a reaction I am prone to when momentarily nervous. I had been looking forward to this shoot with excitement but also with trepidation. Armitage was my biggest catch yet for my project – and I was determined to do this shoot well and get something out of it besides my own artistic work. If I could get his agent to use my images, maybe more work would come out of it. This was to be a test of my professional abilities.
“Please, I am Richard”, he said and offered his hand for a cordial handshake. “Oh, and I am Sophya”, I answered while ushering him in. We walked through to the studio at the back of the house. “Would you like a cup of tea before we start or are you in a hurry?”
“Tea would be lovely”, he intoned with a warm baritone voice that was made even warmer by the smile that swung on his answer.
Dang, was that amusement on his voice? Had he detected how nervous I was? “Get a grip, woman, keep your cool”, I berated myself for my teenage-crush nervosity.
“No hurry. I have only the weekend scheduled after this.”
I busied myself in the corner of my studio that held a make-shift mini-kitchen. While the water was getting to boiling point in the kettle, I grabbed a couple of mugs and put the teabags into the pot. I poured the water into the pot and placed it with the mugs, sugar and milk and some bourbon cream biscuits on a tray.
When I turned around, Richard was standing in the middle of the studio, hands in his pockets, looking around at the gear. I placed the tray on a coffee table at the back of the studio where a sofa invited my clients to relax before a shoot.
“Damn, today it is me who needs to relax”, I thought to myself. “Here, make yourself comfortable, eh, Richard”, I beckoned him to sit down and join me. He came over, taking off his tight-fitting black jacket, carelessly throwing it on the sofa’s armrest.
“Ah, tea. Always makes you feel at home, doesn’t it?” He took the mug I had poured for him and added a generous dash of milk to it. Leaning back he glanced to the studio wall opposite him. “Your work?”
I nodded. I had some arty nudes in black frames on the wall, a previous project that was all about light and shade. “Niiiiiice.” He winked and sipped on his tea, finally giving me the opportunity to say something.
“Thanks for indulging me with this project, Richard. I really appreciate that you are giving me your time. I hope it’s not going to go over-time. We should be done in a couple of hours, give and take” and depending on our rapport, I added to myself. “You obviously have done many of these before and are used to being looked at through the big black eye”, I added. “So I’ll try to be pretty short and sweet.”
I felt his gaze intensely and appraisingly on my face. “Pretty, short and sweet, yeah…” he repeated.
All text © Guylty at me + richard armitage, 2013. Please credit when using excerpts and links. Images and video copyrights accrue to their owners.